Old Fort Days Rodeo boosts prize money, marks 90 years

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,224 views 

Old Fort Days Board Chair Jerry Efurd

The Old Fort Days Rodeo will mark its 90th year in Fort Smith by increasing prize money in hopes of drawing more contestants to join the long-running event.

Contestants pay entry fees to participate in the rodeo with that money going into the total pot. Top finishers in each event get a percentage of that event’s pot. It’s how participants earn a living, explained Jerry Efurd, Old Fort Days Rodeo Chairman. This year, Old Fort Days Rodeo is increasing that purse by adding $7,500 to every event’s purse, he said.

“Say we take in $5,000 from the contestants for the event. We are adding $7,500 more to every event. Then that money is distributed on a percentage basis to the contestants,” Efurd said. “It helps the rodeo contestants because it is a very expensive career. It helps our contestants increase their earnings, which helps them qualify for the National Finals Rodeo. It also helps us to put on a better rodeo for the fans by attracting more contestants. The more added money you can do, the more attractive the rodeo is.”

Efurd said the rodeo committee started the year knowing that fuel, groceries and most goods are higher than in the past. That equated into the rodeo costing $43,000 more to put on this year than last.

“We tried to see how we can attract more contestants,” Eford said. “This is working.”

The rodeo has set a record this year for sponsorships this year, he added.

The Old Fort Days Rodeo will kick off this year with a parade at 10 a.m. May 29 on Garrison Avenue in downtown Fort Smith. The rodeo will be held at 7 p.m. nightly May 29 through June 3. Events will include bare bronc riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie down roping, barrel racing, bull riding and break away roping. The youth bull riding has been expanded this year, and the wild pony races will return.

There will be a youth area featured outside the arena each night that will include pony rides, a mechanical bull, bungee jumping and a pirate ship. And the kid’s costume contest will return. Brinson James will be the rodeo’s professional rodeo clown and barrel man.

The rodeo is a program of th eArkansas-Oklahoma Regional Education and Promotion Association. The association is an all-volunteer, not-for-profit corporation, and was organized to educate and inform the residents of Western Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma about agricultural matters.

According to the rodeo website, the first rodeo took place at Andrews Field, near the Arkansas River near downtown Fort Smith, in 1933. It was billed as the “Pawnee Bill Rodeo” and featured the real Pawnee Bill from Pawnee, Okla.